THE region’s top prosecutor has urged people across the North East to have their say on how people who suffer from mental health issues are treated by the criminal justice system.

Speaking after the sentencing of Ethan Mountain for manslaughter on Friday, Andrew Penhale, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS North East, said that the case highlighted how important it was that prosecutors worked from clear, informed guidance when making decisions about defendants with mental health issues.

Mountain suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and told police how voices in his head had compelled him to carry out a random knife attack on shopworker Joan Hoggett, 62, in Sunderland last year.

The 19-year-old was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to an indefinite hospital order, after two psychiatrists agreed that he had been of diminished responsibility due to his mental disorder.

Mr Penhale said: “I would first like to praise the dignity shown by the family of Joan Hogget in the immediate wake of Ethan Mountain’s plea to the charge of manslaughter.

"Despite their own grief, they have recognised the significant role that Ethan’s mental illness played in his actions and have publicly encouraged those suffering from mental health issues to seek appropriate support.

“Cases involving mental illness are complex and difficult, as a single disorder can affect different people in different ways. As prosecutors we always need to make decisions based on the unique facts of a given case, but it is vital that we are also guided in such decisions by the expertise of those working across the mental health sector.

“Earlier this month the Crown Prosecution Service launched a public consultation on updated legal guidance about how we deal with defendants with mental health conditions and disorders. The guidance has been developed over many months in collaboration with mental health experts, to better reflect our growing understanding of different mental conditions.

“I would encourage anyone with a perspective on mental health, from members of the public to mental health professionals, to engage with this consultation and help to shape this guidance before it is finalised later this year.”

The revised guidance is designed to assist decision-making throughout a criminal case, from the initial decision to prosecute, through to fitness to plead and sentencing.

Research found that around one in five cases in England and Wales involved a defendant, victim or witness with a mental health issue.

The consultation runs until June 4 and can be found online, with the final version of the guidance due to be published later this year.